One thing me and my friend talked about on our walk along North B Street was the sermons at the mission and my observation that the preachers avoid the "soft" topics of Christianity, like they were the plague. The Sermon on the Mount; Paul's words regarding love [I Corinthians 13]; and Christ's Two Commandments [Love God & Love Others] are just-next-to-absolutely avoided.
The homeless congregants at the mission are told in 90%+ of sermons that they are loved by Jesus or God. We're told to praise God and fear Him and Hell. But for us to love or be compassionate? Why, that's for girlie-men.
Before the sermons each evening, The Rules are read, usually by Brother Bill. Since it was a weekend night, Brother Bill was away and, for last night, Donnie read the rules. [The Rules comprise rules of conduct for guests at the mission; times when various services are provided; and other information and instructions.]
The first thing Donnie told the congregation, reading off-script, speaking to the so-called Bannon Street Irregulars, who sleep on the street in front of the mission, was that they mustn't hang clothing and stuff on the mission fence. I don't remember Donnie's exact wording, but I got the impression that if things were found hanging on the fence, mission staff would take them.
That got my dander up a bit. Donnie and the mission higher-ups may not be up-to-speed on hot topics in Homeless World Sacramento, but confiscation of homeless people's property, as if homeless people aren't accorded the same rights of general American citizens, is near-settled law: Homeless people's property cannot be summarily taken any more than can a rich man's. While mission administrators can take steps to secure their fence and property, now, really, isn't the time: The economy's in meltdown; it's cold outside; the homeless population is up, exceeding shelter space, which is down, in Sacramento. Let homeless people dry their drawers by hanging it somewhere!
As Donnie read from his script, he included this line, which I've heard many times before from him: "Any item left on mission property becomes mission property." For whatever reason — maybe just me being cantankerous — I decided I was going to ask Donnie to stop saying that one sentence. As much as homeless people are, obviously, THE great beneficiaries of Union Gospel Mission's services, it should not be the policy of the mission to confiscate any of our few belongings. This is America, for crying out loud, where it is universally against the law to unilaterally take possession of something someone else misplaced or forgot.
I should mention, too, that it is easy for guys to forget things: Nowadays, and until next March, guys staying in the guest dorm dress in the morning in the dark. Lights are turned on, and the morning bell for chow [breakfast] call is at 6am weekday mornings, and we have a lot to do to get ready and eat before the bus leaves [at 6:15am] or we are shooed off mission property [by 6:30am]. Sometimes, guys can forget what stuff they had with them that was left in the dining hall. And on Fridays, our belonging are moved out of the dining hall and placed in the courtyard to facilitate special services for the Rehab guys. If guests brought more than one parcel, they can get separated; thus, something can easily be forgotten.
So, after Donnie read the rules, I asked to talk with him. I told him, first, that I had learned that the Baptist Church has a great history, especially with respect to the origins of our country and with respect to Black citizens.
[Had I time to be long-winded, I'd have expounded on my point: The Baptist church was central to the establishment of the concept of separation of church and state in America. One of the Four Freedoms of Baptist belief is that the individual be free to choose whether to practice their religion, another religion, or no religion. While the Baptist church has a terrible past among many Southern Baptist churches in the 20th Century, relating to race relations, other Baptist churches were very welcoming toward Black communities in the 19th and 20th Centuries which is why, to this day, a great proportion of Black American protestants are Baptist.]
Then, I told Donnie the line in the rules he read that I thought was a problem. I told him it was something he said that Brother Bill did not say when the rules were read. Donnie, irritated, said he could guarantee me that the rules he read were the very same as what Brother Bill read, and he turned the script he read from toward me, momentarily. Thenupon, he sent me back to my seat in the chapel.
[What Donnie doesn't realize is that his line, that Brother Bill doesn't read, in The Rules is ridiculed; sometimes the first thing guys refer to when they voice objection to the mission.]
Funny thing, the musical group that performed for the first half hour included a song based on the words of the first eight verses of Paul's words about love in the first book of Corinthians. That put a crimp in my sense that any notion of love is utterly avoided at UGM. [Still, it's mighty, mighty rare.]
The sermon last night was delivered by "the inimitable Hector Marquez," [as he's sometimes introduced by the Gideons] whom, when last seen, achieved notoriety for his hysterics about The End Times and the persecution of extreme right-wingers, like himself, and Christians, generally, by the Satanic secularists in America.
Hector was in full, blooming bloviating paranoid wingnut mode, again, last night. As was the case in August, Hector seemed to make oblique and hateful reference to President Obama. The word president came up many times in the early part of his sermon, which talked about the oppression of Christians and the courageous acts of preachers to spread the Word in a hostile world. Christ can help us "to look up" and not be bowed down in despair, outside the Lord's providence.
Then Hector wended his way to saying something that was not oblique. He said that the world's leaders — the presidents, the kings, the dictators — would die and rot and be forgotten unless they paid homage to Jesus. Hector pounded the podium, furiously, his bald head dripping sweat.
"Wouldn't it be glorious," Hector said, "if President Obama would say 'Jesus Christ is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Let's bring Jesus Christ back to America. Let's bring Jesus Christ back to the classroom and prayer back to the schools." [Hey. So much for the Baptist Four Freedoms, I guess.]
Near the end of his spiel, Hector talked about some of the Hateful who, when they die, have themselves buried face-down, under concrete. And he talked about The Rapture. Very theatrically [Here, I have to give him a bit of credit], he demonstrated how he would one day soon be swept up to a place beyond the parted clouds. He stood at a 30-degree angle with his arms straight down, pressed against his body, looking like a rotund Puerto Rican torpedo.
After the sermon, there was dinner, per usual, and a shower, required of guests staying the night. When I got out of the shower room, I found that someone had dropped his cellphone in my shoe. What to do? Donnie's words rang in my ears: "Any item left on mission property becomes mission property." While I didn't really think that the mission would claim possession of somebody's cellphone, that is directly, overtly what Donnie says will happen every time he states his rule.
Fortunately, after a couple minutes, Greg, the owner of the phone, came down from the dormroom to claim his phone.